County Clare - Feel the Burren

Luke Skywalker's Summer Retreat

I don’t know much about cliffs, I know they have edges, hangers and notes, Dover has some white ones and Kate Bush liked to sing about a Heath version. But if you’re going to gawp at some, get yourself down to County Clare (“a long long way from here to there”) to check out the spectacular Cliffs of Moher. They are epic and endless, the kind of place Luke Skywalker goes to have a midlife crisis.

Like a boss the cliffs have their own parking. We were blown around the car park as we tried to find our bearings. We finally found the entrance to the small museum, it was nestled into the mountain itself with a clever piece of contextual architecture. They show a 360 degree movie from the point of view of a bird on the ledge of the cliff. I think I let out a slightly queasy ‘Oh, Jesus’ as the “bird” took a fast dive headlong into the ocean. It was quite novel and Roisin proceeded to shout to no one in particular “Again!”.

My biggest take away from the museum was the man who invented the submarine, JP Holland, was indeed a local boy. He moved to America (didn’t we all) and was funded by the rebel Fenian movement (weren’t we all) in construction of the first sub to be used against the British Navy in the name of a free Ireland (made a paper boat, sank it).

We were blown away

As we exited the museum we found ourselves atop the cliffs and walked to the walled edge, sprays of water showered us, immersing us in the refreshing power of nature. The grip of the gusty wind kept us very much aware and awake. If the water wasn’t slapping us in the face the wind was smacking us on the ass. They say a coffee in the morning can perk you up, try having the Benny Hill of nature chase you around the mountain side. My eyes had never been opened so wide, my eyelids were vacuumed apart by the gale force. But it turned out I needed as much eye as I could muster to take in the wondrous beauty of the Cliffs of Moher. At 700 feet high, these cliffs bow to no one.

If you walk for long enough the wall disappears but the cliffs keep going. This kind of situation terrifies me, especially with a child in tow. I found it utterly heartbreaking to see signs from the Samaritans warning against jumping off the cliffs. If you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom, remember you are worth significantly more than the situation you find yourself in. Ring a friend, a stranger, the Samaritans (116 123), ring yourself and leave a voicemail. What’s the worst that can happen?

Feeling eyes on us I turned to see a couple of cows staring through us, unperturbed by the wind, the rain, or the cavalcade of tourists crushing on their coast.


‘Moo’ved by the bovine beauties I encouraged Roisin to shout “See Ya Later, Cow!” as we were swept back to the car. A shuffling tourist happened to cross our path as Roisin yelled, the lady’s mouth formed a perfect circle of shock and surprise to match her alarmed eyes. We stared at eachother for a minute and I thought about clearing up the confusion, but other than the opening gambit of “You’re not a cow” I was lost for words so just left it.

We pulled into Spanish Point where we were docked for the night in the Armada Hotel. A remote stop with a wild beach and a modern maritime themed hotel with delicious seafood. You could also grab fish & chips from a steel food truck parked up at the beach with a gorgeous calming view out over the reckless ocean. Families sat on colourful picnic benches making a meal of their battered cod as the sun set.

Wearing only our wetsuits we swaggered to the beach only to find the water declared unsafe by the Lifeguard. We joined other wetsuits staring at the mesmerizing surf, and exchanged comments on how awesome the surf looked, as only people who’ve been surfing once in their lives can. The sun set and the darkness picked off people one by one, we strolled back to the hotel along the country road in single file resplendent in our dry wetsuits, like the Monkees on a cloudy day. All tuckered out from doing nothing more than unpeeling those wetsuits (it’s a workout in itself!) we set Róisín up in the teepee in our room -yes, a teepee, what a genius idea from the hotel. We turned on Star Wars and let the education begin, everybody needs to watch Star Wars at least once in their lives. Personally speaking I think once is enough.


While the androids were having a scrap I took a walk along the hotel corridor which was lined with paintings and stories about the Spanish Armada. I had obviously heard of the time in 1588 when the Catholic Spanish decided it would be great craic to invade Protestant England, dethrone Elizabeth and declare the Spanish Empire triumphant. Of course the whole thing was a disaster. With heavy galleon ships the Spanish suffered attacks by the lithe English and had many shipwrecks. The Spanish Fleet, or what survived, stopped in Ireland for succour, many never returned home. It’s not unusual for people from the South West of Ireland to look a little more sallow than their viking cousins on the East coast. In fact, even though I look half viking, half eejit, I have an 11th great grandfather that was Portuguese, obviously he was involved with the Spanish Armada in some heroic fashion. Either that or he was selling timeshares in the Algarve!

At the crack of dawn we were back into our wetsuits driving to a secret beach called Seafield recommended by the Lifeguard. We were indeed the only people there but hurricane typhonic weather may have had something to do with it. We lasted 10 minutes frolicking in the frigid waters until hypothermia set in and we ran like numb selkies back to the car. Sitting on towels our car hurtled down country roads forced along by the storm, like a tin can of sardines being kicked down the lane. I instructed Dom to pull over so I could at least shake off half of the ocean and sand I had taken with me into the car in our hurry. I opened the car door a crack and the laughing wind flung it wide open. To close the door I had to reach out into the freezing fury, bravely use my two arms and a foot to grip the errant door and fight against the squall (I don't know how the foot helped but my arms needed the cavalry). Getting some purchase and reeling the door in I shouted "Go, Go, Go" to Dom as our car screeched away from the grip of the invincible Atlantic. Dom turned to a highly excited Roisin in the back seat and said “Welcome to Irish Summer holidays”!

Off our heads on adrenaline we decided to bring things down and notch and visit the warm and fuzzy match-making town of Lisdoonvarna. Pre Covid the town hosted an ancient matchmaking festival each year where gorgeous Irish farmers would look for a wife. There are stranger ways to meet someone.

As we approached the town I saw a sign for an open air donkey farm, ‘open air’? Is there any other kind of donkey farm? It was followed shortly after by a sign that simply said ‘Matchmaking’ and underneath it the word ‘Donkey’ - make up your own jokes.

"Good Mousers"....Only in Ireland

We stopped to have lunch in a bar managed by a chatty Londoner. We got into a very long conversation with him about the nearby Aillwee Caves, once inhabited by Brown Bears, creatures now extinct in Ireland. I find it interesting that Ireland once had bears but never snakes, that stinks of some political intrigue or creature profiling to me. Alas we talked so much we missed a chance to go to the caves.

This was the first time I had a chat with someone through a facemask. Half way through our holiday the government tightened the Covid restrictions because the number of cases was spiking. In fairness to Ireland things did seem a bit loosey goosey on the first half of hols, no gaps between tables in restaurants and no facemasks in hotels. But since the restrictions people got stricter, tough looking dudes at doors insisting face coverings before granting entrance, proper order.

You can’t go to Clare and not visit the Burren. It’s a large area of ancient limestone (and that’s me hyping it up). I had been there on a school tour as a child so I assured Dom that I would know it when I saw it. This led to endless U turns around boreens with me pointing at random fields going “That’s it! Oh no, that’s nothing”. Turns out we were in the middle of the Burren all along. The Burren from a distance looks crap (sorry, Bord Failte! But it does).

One Small Step for Mom

However, when you get up close, it's remarkable. It’s like chunks of moon rock were dumped in a field in Ireland. You leap across from rock slab to slab, the chasms getting deeper, the green life bursting through between the cracks. The world's oldest playground perhaps! The only reason you know you're not the first person to walk there (that and the other tourists walking there) is the dolmen erected 5,000 years ago by the ancient Irish. Under it they buried people with pendants, quartz, weapons, and beads. It’s simple in design but it shows our primitive ancestors respected the dead and it’s older than the pyramids, so pffft, in your face Sphinx.

My favourite part of our visit to lovely county Clare was when we drove past a homemade sign nailed to a tree on a back road that just said “Bridget's House”, and an arrow pointing up a country lane. I loved the endless possibilities it evoked, an ‘only in Ireland’ moment. Maybe it was a teenager subtly advertising a party. Maybe it was a B&B. Maybe ole’ Bridge hosts a regular open house Scrabble game, who knows.

In the countryside anything can happen.

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